Access to service dog is imperative for autistic child’s education

Caleb's parents were at a loss as to how to help their six-year-old child with severe non-verbal autism. Caleb has low cognitive abilities and difficulty interacting with others. In addition, he is also frequently anxious and periodically wanders away, a manifestation of his autism called, "elopement." Caleb once wandered off from school and the police found him a quarter mile away, leaving his mother frantic for almost an hour.

Caleb's parents turned to Autism Service Dogs of America for help, and after bake sales, and other grassroots fundraising, received Eddy, a Golden Retriever who had begun training with the agency at eight weeks old. Eddy's training focused on Caleb's needs at school and home. By tethering Caleb to the dog's service pack, Caleb can be freed from constant adult supervision without the fear of him eloping. For their relationship to become completely effective, Eddy had to learn Caleb’s voice and behavior in school and other places Caleb finds stressful. Their actual physical time together is critical to the effectiveness of the intervention.

Cypress School District in Orange County, however, refused to allow Caleb to come to school with Eddy, claiming that an autism service dog such as Eddy was not a service animal that was allowed on campus. Caleb's parents, desperate to help their son, contacted Disability Rights Legal Center (DRLC) for help.

Along with pro bono counsel, Winston & Strawn, LLP, DRLC filed a lawsuit in federal court, and successfully challenged the district's policy establishing that the denial of the use of Caleb's service animal violated his civil rights and the Americans with Disabilities Act. This was a first-of-its-kind lawsuit with ramifications across the country for students with autism. Caleb and Eddy now attend school together and Caleb's life has been transformed by his relationship with Eddy.

The Campaign for Justice. Choose Justice. Increasing Access for Those Without.
Disability Rights Legal Center, Los Angeles, California

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